Cimarron Frontier & Pietta 1873: [Cowboy Gun Reviews]

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The Wild West was tamed a long time ago, right?

Cowboys, outlaws, panning for gold–all a thing of the past. But their guns aren’t!

I know you’ve eyed these guns before, in the local store, on the web, or at a match near you. But do they really live up to the price tag?

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Pull up a chair, partner, and let’s talk a while about Cimarron, Pietta, and how flipping awesome these guns are.

Who Are Cimarron and Pietta?

Both of these names are legendary in the cowboy gun world, but most people don’t really understand their connection to each other.

Simply put–Cimarron is the designer and retailer, Pietta is the manufacturer.

Cimarron Firearms Co

Cimarron has a wonderful video on the subject of how these two brands came to work together if you’re interested.

But the short version is that Pietta is an Italian company that has been making guns since the late 1950s, these days they are owned by Benelli who is in turn owned by Beretta.

While Pietta’s manufacturing has always been outstanding, their designs often left a lot to be desired. Enter Cimarron.

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Frontier Stainless Steel in .38spl/.357Mag

Starting in the early 1980s Mike Harvey, the owner and founder of Cimarron and who is an avid collector of Old West firearms, started working with Pietta to improve and change their designs so that they were true reproductions instead of merely cowboy-ish.

Several decades later, Cimmaron and Pietta are the undisputed champions of outstanding Old West firearms.

The Guns

I grew up in Southern California, in horse country, going to rodeos and trail rides. To me, the West was still very much alive. So when the chance came to play with some cowboy guns, I couldn’t turn Cimmaron down!

Cowboy Guns
1873 Short Rifle and Frontier Stainless Steel next to a Glock 19

Cimmaron sent two outstanding examples of their line, the Frontier Stainless 7.5″ and the 1873 Short Rifle–both in .38spl/.357 Magnum.

Frontier Stainless Steel, Cavalry

The Frontier Stainless Steel comes in a wide range of options and, while it’s not the most authentic of guns, I picked it because it looks awesome and stainless steel is simply far, far more durable than the other options.

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Shiny!

These are replicas of the Colt Single Action Army, Pre-War models–except for the fact that it is made from stainless steel instead. And they are true replicas, everything about them, every cut, every marking is designed to be as close to perfection as possible.

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Frontier Stainless Steel markings

And they really do a great job of it.

What you might not know is that these guns are heavy, clocking in at a full 2.8lbs! Don’t forget to eat your spinach before range day.

popeye

The awesome thing though is that it simply EATS recoil. 158gr American Eagle .38spl felt like a .22lr and .357 Magnum felt like 9mm. This makes for a very pleasant shooting experience and makes using heavy hitting .357 magnum rounds much more do-able.

1873 Short Rifle

The complete name for this rifle is actually the 1873 Short Rifle, 20″ Octagon Barrel – but that is way too long of a name for a sub-title!

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1873 Short Rifle, 20″ Octagon Barrel

If rifles were cars, the Pietta 1873 would be a Ferrari compared to Marlin’s Ford Taurus.

In every possible way, the Pietta is simply amazing. The craftsmanship that was involved in the making of this rifle is simply something you don’t see anymore and it really stands out in a rifle made in part of brass, wood, and steel.

The wood is smooth, silky, and deep in color.

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Walnut stock and grip in all its glory

Side plates cut so fine they are literally razor sharp around the fitting edge. Even the internals look polished and well fitted.

This made for one of the most fun rifles I have shot in a very long time.

Also chambered in .38spl/.357 Magnum, the 1873 rifle did an amazing job of being ready to go right out of the box. More on that in a moment…

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1873 Short Rifle backstrap marking

Are They Useful?

Granted, most people getting these kinds of firearms aren’t looking to use them for home defense or SHTF–and I wouldn’t recommend that you do.

So… what does one do with guns of a bygone era?

John Wayne Lever-Action
If nothing else, you could become a cowboy!

Several things, really. Cowboy Action Shooting is one option, plinking is always fun, and don’t forget the 1873 rifles are still a solid hunting option.

I selected the .38spl/.357 magnum rifle and pistol because I wanted as many options for factory ammo as possible.

Good .357 magnum loads are more than powerful enough to take down most deer out to 150 yards, and .38spl can be found for cheap for nice days of plinking or shooting a local CAS match.

Loading and Unloading

If you’ve never used these types of guns before, take some time to handle them and get to know them before heading out to the range.

1873 Short Rifle

Unlike the Henry style of lever-actions, the 1873 sports a King’s Patient Loading Gate on the side of the receiver. In my opinion, this is a LOT easier to use and load, but it might take some more hand strength.

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Note the loading gate above and forward of the trigger

My gate was stiff starting out, but that’s a sign of a well made and new rifle. Still, it took some force to get each round in for the first hundred or so rounds.

As for unloading the tube magazine, you have two options. You can get each round out through the loading gate, but it’s hard and frankly hurts your thumb.

If it’s just one or two rounds then it’s not bad, but if you want to unload a full tube–opt for option 2.

Simply cycle the action over and over until the rifle is clear. A bit more messy to pick up after, but far less wear on your hands.

Frontier Stainless Steel

Single action revolvers come with several notches in the cocking cycle. Safety notch, half-cock, and full-cock.

If you plan on carrying your revolver loaded and in a holster, set the hammer to the first notch or the safety notch so that a blow to the hammer won’t set off a cartridge.

For loading and unloading, the half-cock is used. This frees the cylinder to spin freely in one direction. Once freed, simply open the loading gate and feed a cartridge in. Rotate the cylinder one position and repeat until loaded.

Although theoretically possible, this NOT a realistic reload speed for revolvers!

To unload, again set to half-cock, open the gate, and then either turn the gun barrel up to let the cartridge fall out, though you might need to give it a wack using the unloading lever on the other side.

Be careful to not inadvertently point the gun in an unsafe direction when loading or unloading!

Fit, Finish, and Function

These guns are well near works of art. Hands down, these are two of the most aesthetically pleasing firearms I’ve ever held.

Frontier Stainless Steel

This Frontier model revolver is basically perfect. Even disassembled, I can’t find anything to complain about. From the depth of the markings to the glass like the smoothness of the action and trigger, it’s all just outstanding.

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Frontier Stainless Steel field stripped and ready for cleaning.

When you get your hands on one, pay special attention to feeling and listening to the clockwork inside. If you know anything about revolvers, you’ll be impressed with the quality found in the Frontier.

1873 Short Rifle

Again, the outside is perfect. The case hardening is lovely and rich, the grain of the wood is supple, and the color is a wonderful deep mahogany. Spend a moment and put a thin coat of protective oil on the gun and it will shine like you wouldn’t believe.

However, the internals is not as nice as the outside would lead you to believe.

The action has some grit to it and the brass elevator especially has some defined tool marks visible.

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Note the tool marks inside the brass elevator

While heavy, the trigger is very crisp with almost zero take up and very little over travel–making for a great hunting trigger and giving you the tools you need for precision shots.

What is impressive is how well everything is fit together. I literally mean that the fitting of the side panels is so fine that it leaves a knifes edge on them. Be careful if you take them off for cleaning or maintenance, they can cut!

Shooting, Groups, Ammo, Oh My

One thing that sucked about the Old West was the sights. Really, if you haven’t handled an Old Timey gun in a while–do so and you’ll be 10 times more amazed at the skill it required for those old Gunslingers to… gunsling.

lever rifle, pattern ammo
75-yard groups, 4 ammo types, standing supported.

However, the sights on these guns are more than acceptable for decent shooting. And are even surprisingly accurate!

1873 Rifle

Out of the box, the rifle came basically zeroed, depending on what ammo I used.

I also tested everything from 158gr .357 magnum down to 90gr .38spl, every single one round through the rifle without a hitch. Zero malfunctions, zero problems.

1873 Rifle Groups
75-yard groups, 4 ammo types, standing supported.

As you can see, what ammo you use will make a fairly substantial change on your point of impact. While I was shooting for groups at 75-yards, I suspect the rifle was zeroed for 100-yards.

However, the targets I had with me were a little hard to see at 100 so I opted to bring them in a bit.

All of the ammo types I used shot softly and were comfortable on the shoulder, even the hot .357 magnum loads.

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(top) Hornady Critical Defense Lite .38 Spl | (middle) American Eagle .38 Spl | (bottom-left) Hornady Custom .357 Mag | (bottom-right) Hornady LeveRevolution .357 Mag

Plinking Ammo

For plinking the range I was shooting at worked out perfectly for the .38spl 158gr American Eagle ammo.

20
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

These are big honking rounds for .38spl and felt like I was shooting a hot loaded .22 LR. For the price, I highly recommend it as plinking ammo!

Hunting Ammo

We’ve said it before with other lever-guns and it still holds true, my go-to pick would be the Hornady LeveRevolution 140gr FTX.

25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

This was the zippiest of the cartridges I used and had a kind of high point of impact because of it, but shooting at the 100-yard steel it was only an inch or two high of aim and was delivering some impressive power.

If I was looking to knock down a deer, this is what I’ll bring.

Frontier Stainless Steel

I’m not sure why, but I was expecting this pistol to be much less accurate than it was. In fact, it turned out to be amazingly accurate.

Frontier Stainless Steel shot at 15-yards

A ragged hole at 15-yards isn’t bad at all for a pistol designed in the mid-1800s.

The bread and butter of my shooting was with the same American Eagle 158gr .38spl ammo I used before mostly because it was just so comfy to shoot with.

Plate racks fell with ease and paper targets trembled before me, even shooting one handed like a proper spaghetti western gunslinger this pistol was stable, flawless, and wonderful.

Clint Eastwood

What Not To Do

Fan The Hammer

I know some of you have played too much Red Dead Redemption lately and the first thing you’ll want to do with your new pistol is to fan the hammer… just don’t.

fan the hammer
RDR2 Fan The Hammer

Not only is this a really unsafe way of shooting, even at the range plinking, but it’s also really hard on your gun and will lead to breakages.

+P and +P+ Ammo

Keep in mind that most of these older designs were made for much lower pressure ammo than what we can make today. With modern improvements to metallurgy and manufacturing, Cimarron’s guns are totally safe to use… with standard loading ammo.

If you read the users manual, you will note that they clearly state to not use any kind of +P or +P+ ammo or it will not only void the warranty, but you can get hurt.

By The Numbers

Frontier Stainless Steel

Reliability 5/5

Zero problems to report. I ran several boxes of 6 ammo types though it and never once had any kind of stoppage. The only thing I found was that some .357 Magnum loads were hard to get out of the cylinder, but that was solved by a stiff hand with the unloading rod.

Accuracy 4/5

Very accurate for an old style pistol. Sights were usable and the grip, once you get used to it, was decent.

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Sight picture for the Frontier is usable, but a far cry from what we’re used to today.

Two things I didn’t love–first, while the stainless steel is wonderful to look at it also SHINES really sharply. In the right lighting conditions, it was impossible to make out my front sight due to it just being one large shining ball of sparkle. Shooting inside of 15-yards this wasn’t a problem, but reaching past that was an issue.

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Sooo much shine

Second, the grip while authentic is very slippy. There is no grit or grab to it at all. This can in part help you since it allows the gun to roll in your hand with each shot a bit making it easier to reach the hammer if you’re shooting one-handed, but it is something you need to get used to.

Ergonomics 2/5

It’s a replica of a 100+-year-old design. It’s understandable that there are some ergonomics lacking. This isn’t really a problem, it’s just something you have to accept.

Looks 5/5

Wow. Just wow.

Customization 2/5

Haha, of course, you can’t customize it… much. If you want, there are gunsmiths that will take it in and do some smoothing jobs on the internals–but I would only send it out for this if you plan on using it in CAS and you’re really into it.

Otherwise, leave it stock and enjoy it for what it is.

Bang for your Buck 4/5

There are cheaper single-action revolvers on the market that you can get to fulfill your Cowboy dreams, but if you want as close to the real thing as possible and you want it to last long enough to pass down to your grand-kids then this is the gun for you.

Best Single Action Army
650
at Sportsman's Guide

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It isn’t cheap, but it is worth it.

Overall 4/5

1873 Short Rifle

Reliability 5/5

5 ammo types and several boxes of each later, I had zero problems. The only thing I kind of ran into was that my .38spl snap caps were too short for the action. I was worried this might be a problem with real ammo, but even shooting 90gr .38spl Hornady Critical Defense Lite I had perfect function.

I don’t know why my snap caps are so short, but if you have the same issue–don’t worry.

Accuracy 5/5

For an old style rifle, with buckhorn sights, and lacking the ability to easily adjust things – I was very impressed with it. Once you understand your holds for your ammo, it’s very easy to get good hits on reasonably sized targets.

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Sight picture on the 1873 Short Rifle is rather good!

Personally, with a bit more practice I think I would feel okay hunting out to 100 yards at least with it.

Ergonomics 5/5

After handling this rifle a lot, I can see why it was so popular with hunters, trappers, and cowboys. Even with a 20″ barrel the 1873 is only 8.2lbs. It’s light, handy, shoulders beautifully, and is one of the most natural feeling rifles I’ve ever shot.

Looks 5/5

Again, wow. The case hardening and the wood just speaks to me. I love it.

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Case hardening and walnut

Customization 2/5

You can find lever-actions with things like a drilled and tapped receiver, but this isn’t one of them. Nor would I ever try to do so. Leather wraps for the lever loop and the stock are about all you can find for it, but honestly, I would leave it stock.

If you are looking to use this for CAS though, there are short-throw lever kits on the market and a good gunsmith can smooth out the action a bit to make it faster.

Bang for your Buck 4/5

If you’re just wanting a plinker than this is a steep price tag for that. But if you want to shoot CAS, have an heirloom rifle to pass down, or want to be the belle of the deer season–then spending the money on something this nice is totally worth it.

Best 1873 Lever-Action
1100
at Sportsman's Guide

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Overall 5/5

Parting Shots

True classics never go out of style, the ’73 pattern lever-action and the single action army pattern revolver proves that perfectly.

From Cowboy Action Shooting to a true ranch rifle or a real heirloom that you want to pass down to the great-grandkids someday, you won’t go wrong with Cimarron and Pietta.

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Do you have some cowboy guns? What do you like better: Henry or Winchester style lever actions? Let us know in the comments! If you’re looking for a lever-gat packing more punch, take a look at our Henry .45-70 hands-on review!

4 Leave a Reply

  • Ricker

    If you plan on carrying your revolver loaded and in a holster, load 5 and rest the hammer on an empty chamber...it has been the "safe" way to carry these guns for 150 years

    4 months ago
  • Pogo

    Henry makes rifles with side loading gates now. And if it can handle 357 magnum it’ll handle +P 38spl from a reputable ammo company. Probably the same instruction manual printed for all calibers.

    4 months ago
  • Hammer

    This article is a great reminder of just how fugly guns have become. More efficient and higher capacity maybe (though I still think the Indian is more important than the arrow), but I can't think of a modern plastic gun that can hold a candle to the beauty of a classic lever action and a well made revolver. And for the record, I'd be just fine with those two options for home defense. A short, maneuverable carbine loaded in .357 can do a lot of damage very quickly in the hands of someone who knows how to run it well.

    5 months ago
  • Terry

    Was disappointed when I got my first look at the new 1860 Henry. Whoever they have polishing the barrels does a great job of rounding over the octagon flats. Uberti does a much better job.

    5 months ago
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